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Life After an ACL Tear

Life After an ACL Tear

As orthopedic specialists, the providers at Orthocenter are knee experts. We’ve seen plenty of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, and we know that having such an injury leads to many questions. 

Let’s take a closer look at what your ACL is, how it gets injured and treated, and what you can expect once your ACL heals. 

The anatomy of your knee

Your knee is an amazing joint, with several important parts that work together to allow you to stand, walk, jump, pivot, and even sit comfortably. 

One of those parts is your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which is one of two ligaments that hold your thigh bone and shin bone in place. The second ligament is the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). 

The anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments cross over each other, forming an X. The posterior cruciate ligament is in the back, and the anterior cruciate ligament is in the front. The ACL is injured more often than the PCL. 

How ACL tears happen

Someone who plays sports is much more likely to have an ACL tear than someone who doesn’t. That’s because tears happen most often during situations that put specific stress on the knee. These situations include: 

Such injuries can happen outside of sports, of course, but ACL tears are more common in athletes. You may be particularly at risk of an ACL tear if you take up a sport after a long period of inactivity, or if you’re older — your ligaments become less resilient with age. 

Types of ACL tears

Not all ACL tears are the same. In some cases, you may need physical therapy as your ACL heals. In more severe cases, surgery is necessary to repair your ACL. 

There are three grades of ACL tears. Grade one tears are more “stretch” than “tear.” In a grade one tear, your ACL can still stabilize your knee. 

In a grade two tear, your ACL is stretched to the point it’s loose, or it may even tear partially. A grade three tear means your ACL is torn into two pieces. 

Treating an ACL tear

In some instances, your doctor may suggest letting your ACL heal, along with physical therapy to strengthen your knee. In others, you may need ACL reconstruction surgery. 

Often, in ACL injuries, other structures in the knee are also injured. When that happens, surgery is more likely to be necessary. 

Athletes who want to return to play are more likely to need surgery as well. If your injury makes it difficult to do day-to-day activities because your knee is unstable, your doctor may recommend surgery. Finally, if you’re young, you’re more likely to need surgery. 

After ACL reconstruction

You will most likely be able to go home the same day as your surgery, but you may need to wear a brace or a splint. Our staff makes sure you know how to control swelling and pain before you go home. 

It’s important to follow instructions regarding icing, crutches, showering, dressing changes, and other aspects of post-surgery care

Physical therapy during your recovery is crucial because it helps you slowly regain strength in the muscles around your knee. Rehabilitation is one of the keys to a successful recovery. 

Within a few weeks following your surgery, you should regain your original range of motion, but full recovery usually takes around nine months. You may not be able to return to athletics for 8-12 months.

If you have questions about protecting your ACL, or what to expect after an ACL injury, schedule an appointment at Orthocenter in Red Bank, Morganville, or Holmdel, New Jersey. Your circumstances are unique, and we’re always happy to answer questions in the context of your situation. 

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